June 21. 2024. 5:37

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Electricity exporter for 42 years, France became a net importer in 2022

The French electricity network manager, RTE, announced on Thursday (16 February) that after more than four decades of being an energy exporter, France became an electricity import country in 2022, a shift that has major consequences on the country’s energy bill.

In 2022, like every European country, France was faced with the consequences of the war in Ukraine on energy prices, caused by falling supplies of gas from Russia.

The situation in France was further compounded by two additional factors: the unavailability of the country’s nuclear fleet for almost half of the year and restrictions on hydropower production caused by a summer drought.

As a result, France had to massively import from European neighbours to make up for its declining production. That was enough to reverse France’s import-export balance, said Thomas Veyrenc, head of strategy at RTE, who spoke at a press conference on Thursday (16 February).

The situation is almost unprecedented, it is the first time it has happened since 1980.

Negative electricity balance

In 2022, France’s total electricity production was 445.2 terawatt-hours (TWh), a 15% decrease compared to the 2014-2021 average and the lowest production since 1992, according to RTE.

Indeed, several problems have affected France’s electricity supply.

First of all, France’s nuclear fleet, which normally accounts for 50 to 70% of its electricity mix, did not function properly last year.

The pandemic delayed the maintenance schedule of its reactors, and some reactors, including the most powerful ones, suffered from corrosion stress problems, making them less available than in previous years.

The unavailability rate thus exceeded 46% on average over the year, breaking all records.

Today, the fleet has again reached a significant production rate, well above 2022, with 43 our of 56 reactors operating as of mid February.

“The reactors’ return to service track is exactly in line with our forecasts”, said Thomas Veyrenc.

La production nucléaire est à 73% de ses capacités maximales. pic.twitter.com/q2pzA2rmPj

— EnergieBot (@energiebot) February 16, 2023

In 2023, however, production will remain below the 2015-2021 average.

Meanwhile, hydroelectric production reached an all-time low of 49.6 TWh, which had not been seen since 1976, due to one of the hottest years on record, which led to an exceptional drought in the summer.

Wind and solar power generation somewhat compensated for this, but imports mainly influenced the balance.

Neighbours and market support

To stabilise its network and avoid shortages, France relied on the support of its European neighbours. Imports thus amounted to 16.5 TWh, reversing the import-export balance, which is usually positive for France.

In comparison, France had exported more than 43 TWh in 2021, points out RTE.

Most of the imports – accounting for 60% of the negative balance – were concentrated in July, August and September, at the height of the nuclear fleet’s problems and when energy-saving efforts had not yet begun to bear fruit.

Since then, RTE observed that electricity consumption over the year was 4.2% lower than the 2014-2019 average, reaching a level close to that of COVID years – mainly 2020.

Furthermore, Veyrenc said the importance of the European electricity market in this period of turmoil over its role due to soaring electricity prices.

“The interconnection system backed by the short-term European electricity market has led to an instantaneous reversal of the flows maintaining the system’s performance,” he said.

However, he pointed out that, like many stakeholders such as member states and the EU Commission itself, RTE supports an overhaul of its functioning to “stabilise electricity prices”.

As a result of this turmoil, France’s energy bill is still expected to rise to €115 billion, driven by an average short-term spot price of €276 per megawatt hour (€/MWh) in 2022, compared with €109/MWh in 2021.

Between 2010 and 2019, the bill never exceeded €80 billion.

Such a high bill was primarily driven by imports of fossil fuels, especially liquefied natural gas (LNG), which accounted for €7 billion more than electricity imports, although the latter was significantly higher than in previous years.

French strikes cause costly surge in electricity imports from Germany

France imported €330 million worth of electricity in order to meet domestic demand in January while only exporting €96 million to Germany during that same time period, data shows.